Trinidad and Tobago is the most southerly island state of the West Indian archipelago. Located just northeast of the Venezuelan mainland, our islands are bound by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
If three persons were asked to give an overview of the arts and culture of our twin-island state, it’s quite likely that three different responses will be offered - each one being accurate, mind you!
This phenomenon clearly underscores the complex nature of the artistic and cultural landscape of our land.
Truly, the arts and culture of Trinidad and Tobago reflect a rich mélange in origin, form and content.
In responding to the question on arts and culture, a proud Trinbagonian (as we fondly refer to ourselves) is likely to mention Carnival – arguably one of the greatest spectacles in the world. As a much sought after destination during this pre-Lenten festival, the city of Port of Spain provides the perfect platform for scintillating mas’, steelpan (our national instrument), soca, chutney and calypso music.
Yet another response would list other festivals of religious origin, which populate our national yearly calendar of events. These predominantly community-oriented celebrations include Hosay, Phagwa (Holi), Eid-ul-Fitr and Divali, the festival of lights.
Easter-time in Tobago is marked by the traditional spectacle of goat-racing, while stick-fighting, limbo dancing and the re-enactment of the Moriah Old Time Wedding feature widely during the annual Heritage Festival on the island.
Parang fills the air with melodies at Christmas time on both islands – the music being an enduring relic of our Spanish history and heritage.
By no means can our people be described as homogenous in Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, our ancestors came from many distant lands and made this country their home.
The original inhabitants of our islands were the Amerindians who had migrated northwards from the South American coast. They were then followed by the Spanish, French, British, Africans, Indians, Chinese, Syrians, and Portuguese. In short, people arrived on these shores from virtually every corner of the globe, as colonizers, enslaved or indentured labourers, or under far less harsh circumstances.
Through daily interactions among the early settlers over the years, our cultural and artistic reality has morphed into quite a pot-pourri of expressions. Each one of these diverse groups has left an imprint on our society. As a result, the indicators of our diversity are everywhere - from our language as seen in place names, to our culinary fare, the religions to which we subscribe and the festivals we celebrate so avidly.
Somehow we have managed it all very admirably in spite of the challenges which we sometimes face.
Calypsonian Sniper in his popular composition ‘Portrait of Trinidad’ captured our excellence and our mystique when he described our nation as “small, but overwhelming in worth”.
Indeed, there is no doubt that the magnificence of the arts and culture of Trinidad and Tobago surpasses what may generally be expected from a small nation in the developing world.